Every Jew has a Nefesh HaBahamis (Animal Soul) and a Nefesh HoElokis (G-dly Soul).
We will learn much of these together, but here it is important to simply note that a Jew fulfills his purpose in life when his Animal Soul is harnessed and influenced by his G-dly Soul. Each man has his own private zoo of animalistic emotions. Equally, each man has the capacity to dominate each and every one of these, and indeed to harness them for good.
Every school child knows the story of Noach and the teiva (ark). There were ten generations from Adom HaRishon (Adam) to Noach (Noah) during which the behavior of the world was unacceptable to HaShem. The result was that He brought about a mabul. "Mabul" is not translated well into English; the word connotes total devastation, not only flooding. HaShem told the tzaddik of the generation, Noach, to build a teiva to house his family and representative species of all animals during the mabul. The family and animals were saved because they were protectively housed in the teiva.
So much for the simple story. The Curtain Parted is about lights that shine in each week for each Jew, and is not therefore the place to delve into the science of the teiva; suffice it to say that the scientific obsession with trying to disprove various aspects of the teiva is at best totally inconclusive. We are left with grudging acceptance of the perfection of the dimensions of the teiva; of the granted possibility of housing all the animals if the large ones were babies; of the existence of Mount Ararat and the possibility of the teiva still being there.
To really understand the application of this Sedra to every Jew, one must first understand what the mabul was. The Rebbe explains that the mabul contained waters of destruction, terrible waters from two separate sources; one from above by way of rain, and one from below by way of hot eruptions from the earth's core.
During the forty-day period of cataclysm, devastation was by way of hurricanes, cyclones and unrelenting rain. Eruptions form the earth's core caused parts of the sea to boil. The Continental Shelves as we know them today were formed at that time and indeed the whole structure of the earth's surface was reformed. Furthermore human beings, the progeny of Noach and his family, also changed. Man became carnivorous and his life span shrank.
How does any of this affect a twentieth century Jew? The Torah, being eternal, is universally applicable and every story, apart from being true, has its explicit application to every Jew in each generation. The Rebbe explains that the waters from below in a Jew's life are the turbulence of trying to earn a living. Turbulent we all know it is. These are the waters which rise and fall daily, their waves breaking into the constant struggle for peace of mind. As we all know, seldom calm, these waters can suddenly crash through the equilibrium of the stoutest heart. Men gasp, flailing in the sea of mortgages, payments and bills.
As if not enough, also to be contended with are the waters from above. These are the trials and tribulations which accompany earning a spiritual livelihood. Here, if a man sets about trying to do something worthwhile for other people, he is deluged from above by cyclones of criticism and hurricanes of suspicion. The greater the potential good and the greater the effort, the more intense the tempest. Indeed in matters spiritual, a workable test of the potential good is measurement of the opposition to that good. Additionally, one is kept from one's own opportunity to learn.
One of the extraordinary facts of life is that these disturbances are absolutely necessary, whether they relate to one's livelihood or to one's avodah (service) to G-d. Curiously, the more one is buffeted, the more there is an opportunity, as we will see, to survive in exactly the same way as Noach and his children survived. For a Jew to endure, there can be no thought of entry into either the lower waters or the upper waters. As soon as he does he drowns.
Make no mistake; sometimes the waters are seductively attractive and beckon one to slip inside. With all the problems that the hustle of parnossah (earning a livelihood) bring, there is a temptation to become more involved in its process. Jews foolishly believe their financial salvation lies in diving in and fighting the current. In The Ladder Up it was explained (Ch. 2, Life Secrets) that a Jew's parnossah is a berochah (blessing) from G-d. His only task is to make a vessel for this blessing. Although conditional on effort, this brocha is decided on Rosh HaShanah and is difficult to change. Change, if any, is brought about by spiritual change, never a change in physicality. This makes all the dodging and conniving absolutely useless. As this is not well known, and certainly less understood, Jews are ready to plunge in and try to swim. As explained there the true perspective of Jewish work is that of a regrettably necessary curse. Six days work must be done but with the hands, not head and not the heart. The head and heart are reserved for Torah and Mitzvos. Labor is necessary; without it there is no vessel for the brocha of parnossah. Financial success however, is governed by the spiritual environmental needs of the neshamah, not the physical effort made to earn money. Curiously, the higher a man's spiritual existence, the less the need for his physical contribution to the gleaning of his sustenance. As most Jews are completely confused about this, they are ready to jump into the waters, honestly believing that the more they thrash the currents the more the distance they will travel. In reality the turbulent waters are nothing but a means to test a Jew's commitment to his G-d, Torah and mitzvos.
The upper waters are no less voluptuous. The upper waters confuse and muddle a man's spiritual effort. Anyone who has experienced a massive storm will testify as to the beauty of the experience. The light and sound include one in moments of great majesty. It is the feeling of majesty which kills, cunningly blowing a man up with false pride until he dies a spiritual death.
How then does a Jew survive? By building and living in a teiva until the danger subsides. Our only chance of survival as a nation, as families and as individuals is to go into the teiva. Whenever we did, Jewry survived. Whenever the teiva is ignored, there is, tragically, loss of life. Once in the water it becomes more and more difficult to climb out. The Rebbe explains that the more a person tries to get involved in the waters of parnossah, (material physicality), the more he is faced with a law of diminishing return. The deeper into the waters the more difficult the swim to the teiva.
Similarly, those people who become influenced by the upper waters find it increasing difficult to see their way back to the teiva. History is replete with Jews who, despite initial good intentions, go wrong in false piety and fraudulent hypocrisy.
What then is the remedy of the teiva? "Teiva" in Hebrew also means "word". The notions we are exploring therefore are those of containment and of words.
The words concerned are the words of Torah and Tefillah (prayer). In other words, if a Jew has a connection to Torah and Tefillah, to learning Torah and communicating with HaShem, he is protected from both the lower waters and the upper waters. By learning HaShem's Torah and davening to Him, a Jew enters the teiva. The container is sealed by his learning being translated into the action of doing mitzvos.
Every man's teiva will still be tossed by the waters. As we shall see, it is the very process of being tossed which gives birth to strength and growth. There will be no danger however, as each man's little teiva remains secure, a haven of domination of the animal soul, impervious to the storms and oceans outside.
Separately, we will see as we proceed together that the whole purpose of the descent of a Jewish neshamah into its physical body is to refine that body and elevate its environment. One of the ingredients in this achievement is domination of the Nefesh HaBahamis by the Nefesh HoElokis.
Parshas Noach gives us all a chance to reexamine the plans of construction of the teiva. It is the week to see how, in overview, one can be safe together with one's family. How to live inside the teiva during the mabul, controlling the Animal Soul, dominating it with the G-dly Soul, free from harm from the upper and lower waters. Later we learn how to live outside the teiva once the skies again glow with warmth and sunshine. Both lessons are the promise of Chabad Chassidus, some of which we will learn together.
- (Back to text) See Tanya, Chs. 1 & 2.
- (Back to text) The following explanations are based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. I, p. 5ff.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XIII, p. 66 based on Tanya, Ch. 17.
- (Back to text) Ch. 2, Life Secrets.